A mumpsimus is an action by a person who adheres to a routine, idea, custom, set of beliefs, or a certain use of language that has been shown to be unreasonable or incorrect. For example, a person may continue to say all intents and purposes as all intensive purposes, even after being corrected. The term mumpsimus may also refer to the person who does the action.
Mumpsimus has been defined as a "traditional custom obstinately adhered to however unreasonable it may be", as well as "someone who obstinately clings to an error, bad habit or prejudice, even after the foible has been exposed and the person humiliated; also, any error, bad habit, or prejudice clung to in this fashion". In other words, mumpsimus can describe the behavior, as well as the person doing it. Garner's Modern American Usage says the word could describe George W. Bush because of his persistent habit of pronouncing "nuclear" as /noo-kyə-lər/ instead of the standard /noo-klee-ər/, despite the error being widely reported.
The term originates from a story about a priest who misread the Latin word sumpsimus as mumpsimus. Informed of his mistake, he replied that he had said mumpsimus for a number of years and was not about to change: "I've got so used to using the word mumpsimus that I'll just go on saying it that way." The Oxford English Dictionary credits the English diplomat Richard Pace (1482–1536) with introducing the word,[a] but it may have first been used by Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) in a letter he wrote in August 1516. Pace acknowledged that he had taken the anecdote from Erasmus in a letter that he wrote to Erasmus in 1517. Another source attributes the tale to King Henry VII of England (1457–1509), which would make it even older.
The cant word quickly became widely used by 16th-century writers. In William Tyndale's 1530 book Practice of Prelates, the word was used in the sense of a stubborn opponent to Tyndale's views. He said that the men whom Cardinal Wolsey had asked to find reasons why Catherine of Aragon was not truly the wife of King Henry VIII of England were "...all lawyers, and other doctors, mumpsimuses of divinity". In 1531 Sir Thomas Elyot used the word in his Boke named the Gouvernor where he said of Magnanimitie that the word, "...being yet straunge, as late borowed out of the Latyne, shall not content all men, and specially them whome nothing contenteth out of their accustomed mumpsimus".
Henry VIII reportedly said of arguing preachers, "Some are too stiff in their old Mumpsimus, and others too busie and curious in their new Sumpsimus." Peter Heylin refers to the king's saying in his 1631 The History of St. George of Cappadocia when he talks of "...those self-conceited ones which are so stiffe—as King Harry used to say—in their new sumpsimus..." Hugh Latimer (1487–1555) used the term in two sermons he preached in 1552, saying: "When my neighbour is taught, and knoweth the truth, and will not believe it, but will abide in his old mumpsimus..." and again: "Some be so obstinate in their old mumpsimus, that they cannot abide the true doctrine of God."
In an 1883 polemic on errors in translations of the Christian Bible, John Burgon says: "If men prefer their 'mumpsimus' to our 'sumpsimus', let them by all means have it: but pray let them keep their rubbish to themselves—and at least leave our SAVIOUR's words alone."
The term has come into vogue among management theorists. A. Leslie Derbyshire uses the term in his 1981 Mastering Management: Practical Procedures for Effective Business Control to describe managers who know how to do a better job but choose not to. In his 2005 Mumpsimus Revisited: Essays on Risk Management, Felix Kloman defines the term as "adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, practice or belief, out of habit or obstinacy". Mary Lou Dobbs devotes a chapter to Empowerment vs. Mumpsimus in her 2010 Repotting Yourself: Financial-Emotional-Spiritual Flow. She describes mumpsimus as "...a disease attacking relationships in epidemic proportions".
Notes and references
- Pace gives the anecdote in his 1517 De Fructu qui ex Doctrina Percipitur, where he writes "Quidam indoctus sacrificus Anglus per annos triginta mumpsimus legere solitus est loco sumpsimus; et, quum moneretur a docto, ut errorem emendaret, respondit, se nolle mutare suum antiquum mumpsimus ipsius novo sumpsimus."
- Scarlett & Roland 1972, p. 236.
- Elster 2006, p. 29.
- Garner 2009, p. 3709.
- Leighton & Leighton 2003, p. 39.
- Derbyshire 1981, p. 258.
- Hall 1873, p. 137.
- Marshall 2006, p. 158.
- Marshall 2006, p. 159.
- Swinton 1859, p. 146.
- Elyot 1883, p. 289.
- Marshall 2006, p. 160.
- The Economist 1857, p. 123.
- Foxe 1859, p. 141.
- Burgon 1883, p. 218.
- Kloman 2005, p. 13.
- Dobbs 2010, p. 18.
- Dobbs 2010, p. 22.
- Burgon, John William (1883). The Revision Revised: Three Articles Reprinted from the Quarterly Review. 1. The New Greek Text. 2. The New English Version. 3. Westcott and Hort's New Textual Theory, to which is Added a Reply to Bishop Ellicott's Pamphlet in Defence of the Revisers and Their Greek Text of the New Testament ... J. Murray. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Derbyshire, A. Leslie (1 January 1981). Mastering Management: Practical Procedures for Effective Business Control. Cedar Fort. ISBN 978-0-88290-159-6. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Dobbs, Mary Lou (2010-04-16). "Empowerment vs. Mumpsimus". Repotting Yourself: Financial-Emotional-Spiritual Flow. John Hunt Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84694-335-5. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Elster, Charles Harrington (22 February 2006). The Big Book Of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-618-42315-6. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Elyot, Sir Thomas (1883). The Boke Named The Gouernour. K. Paul, Trench. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Foxe, John (1859). Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, Chiefly from the Manuscripts of John Foxe the Martyrologist: With Two Contemporary Biographies of Archbishop Cranmer ... Camden Society. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Garner, Bryan (2009-07-28). Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-987462-0. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Hall, Fitzedward (1873). Modern English. Scribner, Armstrong, & Company. p. 137. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Kloman, Felix (2005-05-16). Mumpsimus Revisited: Essays on Risk Management. Xlibris Corporation. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-4500-4568-1. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Leighton, Jan; Leighton, Hallie (1 January 2003). Rare Words and Ways to Master Their Meanings: 500 Arcane But Useful Words for Language Lovers. Levenger Company. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-929154-12-8. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Marshall, Peter (2006). Religious Identities in Henry the 8th's England. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-7546-8199-1. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Scarlett, Earle Parkhill; Roland, Charles G. (1972). In sickness and in health: reflections on the medical profession. McClelland and Stewart. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Swinton, William (1859). Rambles among words: their poetry, history and wisdom. C. Scribner. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- The Economist (1857). "Whither are we Tending". The Living Age. p. 123. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- The dictionary definition of mumpsimus at Wiktionary